RICO repercussions: how threats to Stop Cop City implicate reproductive justice

By Nneka Ewulonu

RICO charges usually invoke the image of mob bosses and crime aficionados. But in Georgia – where the state RICO law is broader than its federal counterpart – the state recently levied RICO charges against 61 Stop Cop City activists and Atlanta Solidarity Fund organizers. 

The sprawling 109 page indictment, first made public on Tuesday, Sept. 5, is the latest move in Georgia’s ongoing criminalization of the First Amendment. As protests brewed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, then Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a city wide curfew. Dozens of protesters were arrested by the Atlanta Police Department. Every year since summer 2020, Georgia Republicans in the state legislature have introduced bills that would harshly penalize protesters. And in March of 2023, Georgia previewed its legal strategy by charging Stop Cop City activists with domestic terrorism

Georgia’s desire to chill speech and protest is transparent, with the indictment serving as the latest evidence. While some activists are undeterred, the State’s repressive actions towards the Stop Cop City movement will undoubtedly scare some individuals away from exercising their constitutional right to protest. And by backdating the start of the alleged criminal enterprise to the date of George Floyd’s murder, nearly a year before the Stop Cop City movement began, it’s clear that any intersectional social justice movement could become the target of similar tactics.

Abortion care and advocacy has always relied on mutual aid, solidarity, and other principles highlighted by the Stop Cop City indictment. Without these ideals, abortion funds, networks, and advocacy organizations would not be able to operate effectively. 

Central to the indictment is a denouncement of alleged anarchist principles like “mutual aid” and “solidarity,” drawing a link between these ideals and violent action. In reality, social progress has historically come as a result of collective action by and for marginalized communities. When the State fails us, the people can and do work together to fill in the gaps and advance community needs. The fight against injustice can happen in the courts and the legislatures, but when these measures fail us, direct collective action is often the only way of protecting the community and fighting for progress. This is true of most social justice movements, and especially the reproductive justice movement.

From doulas to community funds, abortion care is a hallmark example of communities working together in the absence of state action, or even in the face of active hostility from the state. In the 18th and 19th centuries, abortion before quickening, the point in which a pregnant person can feel fetal movement, was common. Women relied on other women to be the primary stewards of abortion care at the time, practicing as midwives in an era where medicine was not yet an institutional behemoth in and of itself. Abortion restrictions arose in the late 1800s shortly after the creation of the American Medical Association. Abortion care didn’t disappear, but thrived through underground networks of doctors and organizers.

Black and white photo of a "Jane Chicago women's abortion" banner at a rally or protest
Credit: Carnegie Mellon University Library

Perhaps the most famous underground abortion network was the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, known more commonly as the Jane Collective. Created in 1969 in Chicago by a group of young women, members of the group – each referred to as Jane for anonymity – would coordinate with pregnant people who wanted access to abortion. By 1973, the organization had arranged or performed over 11,000 abortions with no reported fatalities. The group disbanded after Roe v. Wade ushered in a new era of legal abortion access. The group’s value of direct community action and care continue to resonate in the modern fight for reproductive justice.  

Georgia is no stranger to the reproductive justice movement. Doe v. Bolton, a legal challenge to Georgia’s 1968 abortion restriction, accompanied Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court of the United States, being simultaneously struck down by the court in 2022. Atlanta was the site of the second oldest Planned Parenthood clinics in the Southeast, houses several reproductive justice advocacy organizations like SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and SPARK! Reproductive Justice Now, and was the first municipality in the region to donate to an abortion fund post-Dobbs. Access Reproductive Care Southeast, the region’s largest abortion fund, is also based in Atlanta. 

Despite a rich history of abortion advocacy, Georgia is currently a part of the growing abortion desert in the Southeast. HB 481, a six week abortion ban bill, passed in 2019 on a margin of just one vote in the state legislature, and was signed by Governor Kemp thereafter. The law was quickly enjoined by a federal judge due to its direct conflict with abortion jurisprudence at the time, but was reinstated after the Dobbs decision. The ban is now being litigated in state court and a decision from the Georgia Supreme Court is pending. On the ground, collectives like the Amplify Georgia Collaborative are advocating for a Reproductive Freedom Act that would repeal the six week abortion ban and related abortion restrictions, allowing more insurance companies to cover abortion services, and other protections for abortion seekers and providers. 

Abortion care and advocacy has always relied on mutual aid, solidarity, and other principles highlighted by the Stop Cop City indictment. Without these ideals, abortion funds, networks, and advocacy organizations would not be able to operate effectively. But in the state’s view, the desire to directly help one’s community is evidence of a criminal, anti-state enterprise. Rather than addressing the material needs of the community and listening to the people, Georgia is killing a protester, planning to engage in voter suppression, and now, throwing the book at activists who dare to challenge the status quo. 

The recent Stop Cop City indictment is the canary in the coal mine. The state’s backlash against social justice and leftist organizations won’t end with the Stop Cop City movement. With the political climate of the post-Dobbs era, reproductive justice advocacy could easily be the state’s next target.  


Nneka Ewulonu (they/them) is a civil rights attorney based out of Atlanta, Georgia. When not waxing poetically about the law, they enjoy college football, baking, and spending time with their partner and dogs. All views contained in Nneka’s writing represent them alone and not their employer or affiliated organizations.

Local, independent journalism takes time and resources. If you have the capacity, please consider becoming a subscriber or making a one-time contribution to keep ACPC running. Donate to ACPC here.

Leave a Reply